Ethiopia’s Amhara region requests federal help over militia unrest

By Dawit Endeshaw

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -The government of Ethiopia’s Amhara region asked federal authorities on Thursday to “take appropriate measures” in response to intense clashes between local militiamen and the military.

The request follows several days of fighting in towns across Amhara, the country’s second-biggest region, between federal forces and the Fano militia.

Fano fighters backed the military during a two-year civil war in the neighbouring Tigray region that ended last November, but a simmering feud in recent months has burst into the open this week.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Amhara regional president Yilkal Kefale said the unrest was causing significant human, social and economic damage.

“It has become difficult to control the situation through regular legal means. Therefore we respectfully call upon the FDRE (federal) government to take appropriate measures based on the required legal frameworks,” Yilkal said in the letter, which was published by Ethiopian state-owned media.

It was not immediately clear what those measures might be.

The fighting was prompted by an operation by the military to push Fano fighters out of certain areas, according to a diplomatic source.

A doctor in one Amhara town told Reuters on Wednesday that his hospital had received more than a dozen patients injured in clashes.

Ethiopian officials have not provided detailed accounts of the situation on the ground, but Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister, Demeke Mekonnen, on Wednesday called the situation “concerning”.

On Thursday, mobile internet access was down in parts of Amhara region, according to residents. Flights to Gondar, Amhara’s second-biggest city, and to the holy town of Lalibela, where there has also been fighting, had been suspended, a spokesperson for Ethiopian Airlines said.

Spokespeople for the federal government and the Amhara regional administration did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Clashes on the outskirts of Gondar continued for a second day on Thursday, a local official there, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told Reuters.

Fano is a part-time militia with no formal command structure. Its relationship with federal authorities has soured in recent months over what some in Amhara say is a disregard for the region’s security.

Violent protests erupted across Amhara in April after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered that security forces from Ethiopia’s 11 regions be integrated into the police or national army.

Protesters felt the order was meant to weaken Amhara. The federal government denied this and said the objective was ensuring national unity.

(Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Giles Elgood, Andrew Heavens and Alison Williams)